Thursday, December 17, 2015


I know nothing about synths so I asked the guys over on KVR what the best synths were. chk71 gave me an amazing writeup which I've used here with slight formatting changes. Thanks chk71!

u-he Tyrell N6 scroll down past the two pictures to find the links. 
Tyrell does does a nice job on analog emulation really, the filter is nice and self resonant, sound overall is very fat and authentic.
Blaukraut Charlatan
Charlatan kind of hits the same spot, as does TAL-Noisemaker, but they're more on the tame side unlike Charlatan, which has some distortion in the filter. They're all rather simple synths, 2-3 oscillators, one filter, amp and filter envelope, 1 or 2 LFO's, no mod matrix or anything, limited polyphony, so more basic stuff really.

A bit more complex:
Synapse Audio Dune LE
Dune LE is a full blown synth with features you'd rather expect from a payware synth. It's actually the full version stripped off the effects section of the payware Dune. Unison on oscillator level, and also a global unison for all oscillators, so you can make huge sounds, and it offers a mod matrix where you can modulate stuff per voice, which is a nice feature which I'd wish other synths had too. The sound is OK, not the best I ever heard, but surely not the worst either.  

Ichiro Toda Synth1.
And then there's Synth1 which is still considered the best (probably in terms of features and sound) freeware synths nowadays, even though it's pretty old now, and for me lacks a bit filter wise. The sound is pretty good though, and feature wise it's not as sophisticated as Dune LE, but it has quite a few feature which lifts it off from being basic. 

Most complex:
Greenoak's Crystal is a gorgeous-sounding semi-modular masterpiece with three voices and 90 modulation parameters. Each voice has a sound source of synthesized or sample-based (sf2) waves. Each sound is shaped by two fully editable multi-stage envelopes for filters and amplitude, and all voices are modulated by six envelopes, LFOs (with swing!) and MIDI through a mod matrix. As you may imagine, it enables astounding evolving sounds. Those sounds are then sent to a mixer for chorus, flanger, delay, and reverb, filtered by frequency. If all that modulation makes your brain explode too, just pick a program out of 20 banks by top designers, Breed two patches to create a third with varying amount of Mutation, and go from there.
Thank to Michael L from KVR for the description.

PTV suggested Madrona Labs' Aalto Solo.

thecontrolcentre suggested Obxd and PG8X.

The Band

Let us tackle guitars, bass guitars, drums and electric pianos.

I try to avoid the fairly old technology of soundfonts. However Flame Studios has a nice collection of electric and acoustic guitars and basses in the soundfont format, so here we go. Many DAWs have the ability to play soundfonts, so check to see if your DAW has some kind of soundfont player. If not try either SFZ+ by Cakewalk or DSK SF2.

Flame Studios has 2 acoustic guitars, a bass acoustic, 3 electric guitars recorded in different ways and 2 electric basses all in SF2 or soundfont. This will keep you going for a while.

The Natural Concert Guitar is a nice sfz acoustic guitar. Scroll down toward the middle of the page for the download link.

D. Smolken has a fun sfz electric guitar called Cute Emily. It has all kinds of interesting settings.

For free guitar amps try Guitar Rig Player and Amplitube.

Karoryfer Samples, D. Smolken's group, has four different bass guitars. All of them are interesting and well sampled because the Dman is a profession bass player who specializes in playing in bands with supermodels. Not that I'm jealous.

Project 16 sampled his Rickenbacker 4001 and made a fine sfz instrument from the samples. I did a VST version with which the French have a love / hate relationship.

One of the best free instruments ever made is DrumMic'a by Sennheiser to show off their mics. I couldn't care less about the mics, but I love the 13,000 sample drumkit. Yeah 13 thousand samples! Bedroom Producers Blog steps you through the German language download process. A bit of a pain, but worth it. It uses the free Kontakt Player that is included.

A side note if you ever want to get Kontakt, which is the standard for sampling and has lots of free instruments available for it, download and register DrumMic'a. Then wait for the upgrade sale they have every Summer. You can get Kontakt for about $125, instead of the normal $400. Now back to your regular programming.

SM Drums are another amazing drumkit available in sfz. Their slogan is Deeply Sampled Drums for the Masses and they aren't kidding. This is a huge and excellent drumkit from a pro drummer and a dedicated team.

PTV suggested Big Mono as another high quality drum set. Get the samples, then the sfz mappings.

For a small Jazz Kit, go to Orange Tree Samples for the samples and follow their link for the sfz mapping.

On the Electric Piano front:
I like the 4Front E-Piano and R-Piano.
The MDA E-Piano has been recommended to me as very good.

The Piano

The Piano gets its own section because:
A: It can be either an orchestral or band instrument.
B: There are lots of good free digital pianos.
C: It is my favorite instrument, so there.

One of the best pianos today is the sfz format Piano in 162 from Ivy Audio's Simon Dalzell. It is a Steinway Model B grand piano with five velocity layers, round robins, close and ambient mic positions and separate samples for when the sustain pedal is on or off. If that is all Greek to you, don't worry it just means that is has the features of a commercial library for free. Until very recently these features weren't available in a free piano. The only negative is that it doesn't have release samples, but you wouldn't want them for the ambient mic position anyway.
You can go to his website and either make a small donation and download it directly or torrent it (legally) for free.
Or you go to VSTBuzz and signup for free and download the piano directly for free.

Another great piano that was just released is the sfz Estate Grand Piano LE from Production Voices. It is a Kawai that was sampled on an estate in Canada. It has both pedal up and down samples and release and pedal sounds. You do need to sign up for their newsletter to get it.

A third fine piano is in the Sampletank 3 sampler pack. It is IKM's Steinway called the Grand Piano 1 SE. They don't give any stats for it, but it is over half a gig, so it has to have a fair amount of samples and it sounds good.

If you don't mind adventures in decompression, the Salamander Piano is a nice Yamaha C5 in sfz format.

I'm going to be egotistical here and point out a few pianos on my own blog. The City is a Baldwin with four velocity layers, the Iowa is a Steinway with three velocity layers, the Skerratt London is a lightly sampled Upright and the Whisper is an intimate piano.

Orchestral Instruments

I love free digital instruments and make some of my own and have a big list from all over the net. I've been asked which are the best and this is my attempt to answer that question. It should be noted that I'm just a hobbyist and these are my opinions.

For our purposes instruments will either be standalone VSTs or in the SFZ format. sforzando is the best for playing SFZ files.

The place to start for orchestral instruments is the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra by Mattias Westlund. He took public domain samples and then worked to make them sound like they were all recorded in the same place. The result is a surprisingly good and coherent orchestra in 500 megs. Its main weakness is the piano, but there are plenty of free ones that we'll get to later.
The original SFZ version is the best and works well with sforzando.
If you prefer I've also done a VST version.

A new alternative is the recently released VSCO Community Orchestra. While it doesn't contain every orchestral instrument and section, it covers the Strings quite well and has some nice solo instruments in Brass and Woodwinds. One great thing is that most of the sustain samples are over 10 seconds. Also it has nice Tremolo for the strings. As I write this it has a beta sfz version that doesn't yet include the percussion mappings, but they are coming. It is a good sized freebie at almost 2 gigs when unzipped and it has almost 2000 samples.

A third alternative is DSK Virtuoso and DSK Overture. DSK also has many other VST instruments. They have nice interfaces and effects, but I've never personally liked the way they sound. Still try some of their instruments and see what you think.

Now that we have a base orchestra it is time to try and find as many solo instruments as we can. Fortunately there are a good solo string instruments.

D. Smolken has done some great sampling and has a sfz Cello and a sfz Double Bass. These are some of the more recent free orchestral instruments and sound very good. They tend to have round robins and several velocity layers.

There is a pretty fair sfz Viola at the bottom of this page. You'll also see lots of other sfz instruments on the page. Try them out if you want to have fun. They vary in quality, but some are quite good.

I've done a VST version of the LDK1609 Violin. ldk1609 is a professional violinist who was kind enough to sample his instrument and put them on It has half a dozen articulations and is heavily sampled, though with only one velocity layer.

For an 11 violin section get IKM's Sampletank 3 taster. It also has many other instruments including a great piano that will be discussed later.

Unfortunately free brass and woodwinds solo instruments are more difficult to find.

I've used the University of Iowa samples to make VST instruments of 3 flutes, a trumpet, a tenor trombone and a tuba at the page I've mentioned before. Scoll to the bottom.

A gentleman named Anthony Deaton has created has created Anthony's Phil Harmonik with a flute, an oboe, a clarinet and a bassoon using the same samples.

The Sampletank 3 taster also includes a nice flute. It has a sax, trombone & trumpet trio as well, but sax isn't exactly classical.

I guess if you like flutes you are in good shape!